An explosion tore through a coal mine in northern Iran on Wednesday, killing at least 21 miners and injuring many more, according to Iranian state media.
Sadegh Ali Moghadam, head of the emergency department of Golestan Province, said 21 bodies were recovered from the mine following the explosion, according to Press TV, the English-language arm of Iranian state television. He said about 14 people were believed to still be trapped in the mine.
Moghadam warned of the “possibility of the death toll rising” as authorities estimate that a total of 35 miners were inside the mine at the time of the explosion.
“We are trying to inject oxygen into the tunnel to increase the chances of survival for people who are trapped in the mine,” he said.
There was confusion about how many miners had been trapped inside. Hossein Ahmadi, head of the provincial Red Crescent, told state TV that about 26 were believed to be trapped. But other officials provided significantly higher estimates, including one from Pir Hossein Kolivand, who runs Iran’s emergency department and who said as many as 80 miners could be trapped in two sections of the mine.
Separately, at least 25 people who had entered the mine to try to save those trapped had to be taken to the hospital after inhaling the gas, said Hamidreza Montazeri, the deputy head of the emergency management department in Golestan.
More than 500 workers are employed at the Zemestanyurt mine, which lies 14 kilometers from Azadshahr. Golestan sits along Iran’s northern border with Turkmenistan and along the shore of the Caspian Sea.